Icy temperatures encourage homeowners to secure their homes and turn up the thermostat, expanding the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Around 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency room each year due to unintended CO poisoning, and more than 400 people die.
This odorless, tasteless, colorless gas is a byproduct of incomplete combustion, meaning it’s produced each time a material is burned. If the appliances in your home run on natural gas, oil, propane, kerosene, wood, gasoline or charcoal, you’re at risk of CO exposure. Find out what happens when you inhale carbon monoxide fumes and how to reduce your risk of exposure this winter.
The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide
Frequently referred to as the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is lethal because it prevents the body from taking in oxygen correctly. CO molecules dislodge oxygen within the blood, depriving the heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs of oxygen. Large volumes of CO can overpower your system in minutes, causing loss of consciousness and suffocation. Without prompt care, brain damage or death can occur.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also take place slowly if the concentration is fairly minimal. The most prevalent signs of CO poisoning include:
- Chest pain
Because these symptoms imitate the flu, a lot of people don’t discover they have carbon monoxide poisoning until moderate symptoms progress to organ damage. Look out for symptoms that lessen when you leave home, indicating the source might be originating from inside.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
While CO exposure is frightening, it’s also entirely preventable. Here are the top ways to keep your family safe from carbon monoxide exposure.
Operate Combustion Appliances Safely
- Don't leave your car running while parked in a confined or partially enclosed building, such as a garage.
- Don't use a generator, lawn mower or other gasoline-powered device in a smaller space such as a basement or garage, irrespective of how well-ventilated it is. Also, keep these devices about 20 feet away from open windows, doors or intake vents.
- Never use a charcoal grill or portable camping stove in a home, tent or camper.
- Keep all vents and flues clear of debris that can create a blockage and encourage backdrafting of carbon monoxide emissions.
Install, Test and Replace the Batteries in Your Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you ever operate combustion appliances in or near your home, you should add carbon monoxide detectors to notify you of CO emissions. These devices can be hardwired, battery-operated or plugged into an outlet according to the style. Here’s how to take full advantage of your carbon monoxide detectors:
- Install your detectors securely: As you think about the best locations, keep in mind that your home does best with CO alarms on each floor, near each sleeping area and close to the garage. Keep each unit away from combustion appliances and sources of heat and humidity. The higher on the wall or ceiling you can place your detectors, the better.
- Test your detectors regularly: Most manufacturers recommend monthly testing to make sure your CO alarms are functioning like they should. Simply press and hold the Test button for 5 to 20 seconds, wait for the alarm to begin and let go of the button. You should hear two quick beeps, see a flash or both. If the detector won't perform as expected, change the batteries or replace the unit outright.
- Replace the batteries: If your alarms are battery-powered models, swap out the batteries after six months. If you prefer hardwired devices using a backup battery, replace the battery once a year or if the alarm starts chirping, whichever comes first. Then, install new carbon monoxide alarms every 10 years or as frequently the manufacturer recommends.
Arrange Annual Furnace Maintenance
Several appliances, like furnaces, water heaters, fireplaces and clothes dryers, can leak carbon monoxide if the system is installed incorrectly or not running as it should. A yearly maintenance visit is the only way to know for sure if an appliance is malfunctioning before a leak appears.
A precision tune-up from Pardee Service Experts consists of the following:
- Inspect the heating appliance for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Spot any problems that may cause unsafe operation.
- Review additional areas where you might benefit from putting in a CO detector.
- Tune up your system so you know your equipment is running at peak safety and effectiveness.
Contact Pardee Service Experts
If your gas furnace, boiler or water heater has formed a CO leak, or you want to prevent leaks before they happen, Pardee Service Experts can help. Our HVAC and plumbing maintenance and repair services help provide a safe, warm home all year-round. Get in touch with your local Pardee Service Experts office for more information about carbon monoxide safety or to request heating services.